In small steps
Obviously, the US does not fully understand which hypersonic weapon they want, but they understand the many risks associated with this. That is why the work is being carried out in several directions at once, taking into account, however, a reasonable unification.
There are many problems. This is especially true for aiming at the target in the final section of the flight. A typical example of the difficulties encountered in the development of hypersonic weapons is the testing of the X-51 rocket, which ended in failure in 2011 and 2012. By the way, the U.S. Air Force recently abandoned a more modern analogue of this missile, the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), but continued to work on another hypersonic complex, namely the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or AGM-183A.
About this we all have not so long ago in detail have talked. We also touched on the project for the Ground Forces, which received the designation Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW). This question is all the more relevant since recently a lot of interesting information about LRHW has been presented.
US Army Long Arm
LRHW is not a completely new phenomenon. Back in May last year, the American Breaking Defense website in Army Moves Out On Lasers, Hypersonics: Lt. Gen. Thurgood ”talked about the presentation of the details of the system, designated Hypersonic Weapons System. In short, it was a land-based solid-propellant ballistic missile with the versatile guided maneuverable planning hypersonic Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) warhead. It was developed by the Sandian National Laboratories of the US Department of Energy. Missiles with blocks are placed on a two-container installation towed by an Oshkosh M983A4 (8x8) tractor.
In September, the Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis blog reported that in August 2019, the American Lockheed Martin received a $ 347 million contract from the U.S. Army to create a prototype Long Range Hypersonic Weapon hypersonic weapon system. He, according to all available data, is the very Hypersonic Weapons System introduced in the spring.
The previously announced data once again found confirmation. According to them, the ballistic missile will have a hull diameter of 887 mm with a transport and launch container length of about 10 m. The launcher semi-trailer is nothing but a new version of the M870 semi-trailer used for the Patriot anti-aircraft missile system. To control the fire, the standard American missile and artillery fire control system AFATDS in version 7.0 will be used. The Long Range Hypersonic Weapon LRHW battery should include four launchers and one fire control machine.
Along with a $ 347 million contract for Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Army signed a $ 352 million contract with Dynetics Technical Solutions. It involves the production of the first serial kit of the hypersonic warhead Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB). Recall, C-HGB is a unified glider biconical design. Behind him is already a cycle of trials - successful, according to the Americans.
“We have chosen a strong team with various skill sets to help the US counter the threat posed by Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons developments.”
“Said Dynetics Technical Solutions President Steve Cook.
Under the contract, twenty C-HGB units for the U.S. Army, Navy, and Missile Defense Agency must be ready by 2023.
Appearance and features
The LRHW complex has a well-recognized appearance - primarily due to the massive dual launcher. What exactly will it be, the US Army showed on materials released in February, which dealt with the training of the military using virtual reality. The media called the Transporter Erector Launcher (TEL) installation: it is similar to what we could previously see in the spring presentation materials.
On February 27, a Long Range Hypersonic Weapon model was shown in Washington. Except for the six-wheeled tractor instead of the previously announced eight-wheeled Oshkosh M983A4, then in its appearance the previously shown LRHW is well recognized. The biggest intrigue can be called characteristics that are still a secret. If you try to summarize all the available data, then the range of Long Range Hypersonic Weapon can reach 6000 kilometers at a speed comparable or even higher than that of the Boeing X-51, capable, according to the project, of accelerating to more than 7000 kilometers per hour.
No less important is the purpose of the complex. And also, whether it can be compared with something that other countries have or will have. It is immediately worth noting that the United States is not trying to play catch-up with Russia, as some media say. It would be more correct to say that the Americans are going their own way, and direct analogies with other systems are not entirely appropriate.
Take, for example, the “Dagger”, the carrier of which is the MiG-31K. And which is similar (at least externally) to a single-stage solid-fuel missile with an inseparable warhead 9M723 of the Iskander operational-tactical missile system. Now let's look at the Long Range Hypersonic Weapon, where the defeat of the target is achieved due to the aforementioned C-HGB block, the role of which is played by a ballistic missile. The difference is serious.
At the same time, Long Range Hypersonic Weapon can hardly be called “strategic”. Unless conditional. Despite the theoretically high potential, this complex and its likely analogues will not be a substitute for the classical nuclear triad, which without them feels quite good, despite the decent age of the same Ohio-type submarines. These are incomparable things: neither in terms of flight speed, nor even more in terms of thrown mass.
On the other hand, the new US hypersonic weapon can make the conventional arsenal of Americans even more deadly. In this sense, without a doubt, and LRHW, and AGM-183A, and hypersonic weapons for fleet it may turn out to be a significant step forward - an alternative to cruise missiles, whose relatively low subsonic flight speed makes them potentially vulnerable to interception by modern air defense systems. In the distant future, given the mass production of hypersonic complexes of various types and purposes, one can still expect gradual displacement by them of intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine ballistic missiles. But, again, this is definitely not a question of the coming years.